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MESOAMERICAN WRITING SYSTEMS

European Explorers and Native American Literature in the New World

❶Palm-leaf manuscript Borassus spp.

Historical Aspects

Setting the Record Straight About Native Languages: Writing Systems
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Peter Mathews has suggested that they refer to polities rather than centers Id. Peter Mathews, David Stuart, Stephen Houston, Karl Taube, and others have determined that name tagging of personal objects that identified the owner and sometimes the function of the object occurred on ear spools, incised bones, ceramics, and other kinds of vessels Id.

Stephen Houston and David Stewart have deciphered the meaning of an ahau "lord" face half covered with a jaguar pelt, as the phonetic equivalent of the word way which is a supernatural spirit companion. This glyph is fairly commonly portrayed in stone and pottery and Classic period texts Id. Kinds of Information Documented Glyphs of historical and social events have been identified including emblem glyphs, glyphs for birth, accession, death, titles, capture, captor, titles, captive, marriage, numerical position in the dynastic line, dates, personal names, genealogy, lines of sucession, astronomical and astrological events.

Media Used Glyphs appear carved into stone and sometimes on wood on the side of buildings, on the lintels over doorways, on wall panels and on stelae and altars. They were also painted on ceramics, portable objects made of stone, bone or pottery, on stucco walls and were painted in color on codices or books made of one long strip of paper folded like a long screen and coated with a fine white lime finish Id.

Change over time in the subject matter of the texts Some of the glyphs had their origin in Cholan writing but the origins of Maya writing is still not clear and may have come from Guatemala, Oaxaca, and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec Id. The subject matter of the texts changed over time and appear to be concerned with divination, astronomy, horoscopes, almanacs, a katun sequence, patron deities, ceremonies, the zodiac, and little history.

The murals, stelae, and carved stone lintels, etc. Eventually, the subject includes the conquest of territory. Use by archaeologists of writings in reconstructing ancient societies Archaeologists have used the decipherment of Maya writing to change their reconstruction of Maya societies from peaceful, cerebral astronomer-farmers, to more bloody rulers who went to war to capture and sacrifice neighboring leaders in order to keep the cosmos running and the food supply of maize coming. The breakthrough in deciphering the Maya glyphs has made the Maya a "historic" culture with an additional major tool for archaeologists reconstructing the political, social, economic, and religious aspects of Maya society.

Maya script also touches on matters as diverse as Classic Maya folk classification, the average life spans of the elite, and the attribution of provenance to looted monuments. More generally, decipherments reveal the composition and spatial organization of Classic Maya polities, now shown to be smaller than previously supposed. The remainder of the story is conveyed through symbols and pictorial conventions that appear to have only occasional relationship to language.

In addition, as far as can be determined at the present time, the signs utilized to express names are based on whole words in the Mixtec language rather than on syllables or single sounds phonemes " Smith The signs represent one or more Mixtec words, usually names of persons or places.

The symbols are motifs that are not language dependent and may be found in other regions of Mesoamerica, such as the speech scroll that is emitted from the mouth of a human or animal to represent speech or a sound. These symbols are ideographs or ideograms. Mixtec pictorial conventions have little to do with language but are found in many Mesoamerican areas where different languages are spoken and include conventions such as "a mummy bundle to indicate a dead person, the confrontation of a male and a female figure to indicate marriage, and the grasping of the hair of one person by another to indicate conquest or prisoner-taking" Id.

Principal Subject Matter The principal subject matter of Mixtec writing is genealogical and historical events, conquest of neighboring polities by rulers, place names, and captive sacrifice. Names of persons may include their calendrical name for the day of their birth and a nickname given to a child at age 7 Id. Names often have the rain deity or the fire serpent in them. Kinds of Information Documented Dates, people, places, historical, political, and ritual or religious events all appear to have been recorded using the Mixtec writing system.

The paintings thereby represent the longest continuous dynastic records known for ancient Mesoamerica and as such enable us to scrutinize, in unparalleled detail, a truly indigenous form of Indian history" Pohl Media Used Media used includes painted manuscripts or codices.

It is not yet known which native languages the stone monuments and wall paintings from earlier periods represent. Carved bones, goldwork, and polychrome ceramics are also in a "Mixtec"style but it is not clear if the language is Mixtec or something else Id. The Mixtec codices are "folded books constructed from strips of animal hide and painted in a dazzling array of color with caricatures of people, places, and things" Id.

Boone states that what she calls res gestae "genealogical-historical screenfolds" record dynastic histories of the Mixtec ruling families; "the deeds or events of specific individuals or groups outline the story, and time and place are often given, but they are subsumed" Boone Change over time in the subject matter of the texts The origins of Mixtec writing is not yet known. Aztec writing may have been based on the Mixtec system Pohl Mixtec writing forms a long register of genealogical and historical records.

However, earlier writings found in Mixtec areas do not necessarily use or incorporate the Mixtec language, so additional research is needed. Use by archaeologists of writings in reconstructing ancient societies Mixtec writings have been used by archaeologists to reconstruct political history through the genealogical and historical narratives.

Archaeologists have identified "the place signs in the Mixtec Codex Zouche-Nuttall as individual elite citadels or great houses in which a single royal family resided. They lie no farther apart than a few kilometers. In contrast, the place signs in the [Aztec] Codex Mendoza represent entire city states and urban centers, some inhabited by many thousands of people.

While both codices use virtually the same symbol system, the different treatment of space and settlement size is a direct measure of the concerns of the societies employing the pictographic system. Clearly the Mixtec need to document the history of alliances and wars among a localized, segmentary elite differed enormously from the Aztec need to document the collection of tribute from entire populations of conquered people" Pohl Zapotec writing was older than the Maya, Mixtec or Aztec systems and may have appeared as early as B.

The later Zapotec writing system although not fully understood may be partly phonetic and partly ideographic. The names of many of the rulers are taken from the day calendar, and their territories are defined by toponyms, usually the names of mountains" Id. In the 16th century the Spanish and some Zapotec scribes recorded the Zapotec calendar, political organization, religion, grammar, vocabulary, genealogies, and some regional maps Id.

Noble names reflecting the ritual calendar appear on monuments of stone and place signs for landmarks and genealogies appear in a pictorial document, the 16th century Lienzo de Guevea used by Marcus to interpret earlier stone monuments Id. Media Used "Early Zapotec writing is found primarily in the form of inscriptions on stone monuments and paintings on the walls of tombs in the Valley of Oaxaca" Id. Change over time in the subject matter of the texts Zapotec glyphs went from a simple early pictorial display concerned with propagandistic "scenes of captives and lists of conquered places," to glyphs concerned with peaceful diplomacy, and finally to a more complex and increasingly informational pictorial system concerned with affirming "royal status," genealogy, and landmarks Id.

These correlate with the periods of 1 a state that is emerging, 2 a powerful peaceful state, and 3 a declining state Id. The first monuments with glyphs appear between B. Between to B. Monte Alban Period I over stone monuments were carved regarding military matters. Like other Mesoamerican civilizations, bound and sacrificed captives are portrayed, and the victors are in full costume. Building L shows a gallery of sprawled and probably eviscerated dead people that are sometimes referred to as "Los Danzantes" - the dancers Id.

Stelae also show calendric and non-calendric "hand gesture" glyphs that may represent verbs Id. Codex glyphs that look similar suggest the possibility of a continuity of 1, years in the place names between Period II and the 16th Century Aztec Codex Mendoza Id. Six show captives and hill glyphs. Two are of Teotihuacan figures with probable historical and political narratives. These glyphs may record a peaceful political conference or a meeting with ambassadors Id. These recorded "the births, ancestry and marriages of the Zapotec rulers and nobles of the time" Id.

Use by archaeologists of writings in reconstructing ancient societies If the hieroglyphs can be deciphered, they may be combined with archaeology to fill in Zapotec history. Marcus believes that all Zapotec inscriptions deal with political history Id. As she points out: Major topics for further study are the lists of places mentioned as important landmarks, the "hand gestures" that may represent verbs of action, the noncalendric glyphs, which appear to be related to political and ritual information, the correlation between the Zapotecand European calendars, the correspondences between Zapotec writing and the Zapotec spoken language and finally the evolutionary relation between the Zapotec system of writing and the systems of the Mixtec, the Aztec, and the Maya.

This may have been an advantage since people who spoke many different languages could then read the glyphs.

Similarly it is not written in an alphabetic script but uses pictures and symbols to communicate information. Principal Subject Matter The principle subject matter was 1 cartographic recording of genealogy and local history, 2 screenfold books that could record dynastic history and be read aloud by elites, and 3 continuous year counts that recorded important events during the year. The representations of persons could become somewhat formulaic because the office, not the individual was what was important, and clothing distinguished the various offices and ranks.

Kinds of Information Documented The conquests, heart sacrifices, and tribute from different conquered polities were frequently documented along with genealogical and dynastic history. Tribute in the form of clothing appears in the Codex Mendoza, and footprints seem to show the passage of time. From the Codex Mendoza, it appears that food was provided by commoners who carried it to the centers and provided labor as soldiers.

Media Used The Aztecs used colorfully painted screenfold books like the Maya and Mixtec and carved and painted glyphs on walls and monuments, and carved stelae. Change over time in the subject matter of the texts The form of the writing changed with the kind of story that needed to be told and forms of event-oriented history, cartographic history, and continuous year-count annals shaped the history told Id.

Use by archaeologists of writings in reconstructing ancient societies The dynastic histories allow a correlation between written texts and archaeological dating methods for excavated objects and settlements. They also allow the reconstruction of place names and the history of the wars, conquests, and dynastic histories. Folded books that could be opened up and hung on a wall to be publicly read aloud to an audience may also have been common.

Many of these were burned by the Spaniards or deteriorated in tropical and other environments not conducive to the preservation of organic materials.

The use of buildings, walls, and stelae to record dates of a rulers historical, political, and genealogical information is also a fairly consistent theme. The advantage of a phonetic system is that it is a more precise recording method for a particular spoken language. The advantage of a non-phonetic pictorial system is that it can be "read" by speakers of different languages. This may explain why in the Mixtec, Zapotec, and Aztec areas the writing appears to be more of a system of pictorial conventions.

Different language speakers could then all read the glyphs. In looking at the differences in Mixtec and Aztec use of similar place symbols, the differences in the treatment of space and settlement size also have become apparent to archaeologists. The persons reading the glyphs would be trained in the their meaning and in some sense already knew what the glyphs refered to, making the glyphs a kind of mneumonic device for specially trained people.

The codices could be unfolded and hung on a wall to recount aloud to an audience what was contained therein. In the Aztec case, calmecac, or royal schools educated royal children as priests and warriors, teaching them functional literacy. Aztec writing was primarily concerned with state ideology and fell into three categories: As an example, a hypothetical "year of the locust plague" could be represented pictorially by a locust. Sampson draws a distinction between semasiography and glottography.

DeFrancis, [17] criticizing Sampson's [18] introduction of semasiographic writing and featural alphabets stresses the phonographic quality of writing proper.

Faber [19] categorizes phonographic writing by two levels, linearity and coding:. A logogram is a single written character which represents a complete grammatical word. Most traditional Chinese characters are classified as logograms. As each character represents a single word or, more precisely, a morpheme , many logograms are required to write all the words of language.

The vast array of logograms and the memorization of what they mean are major disadvantages of logographic systems over alphabetic systems. However, since the meaning is inherent to the symbol, the same logographic system can theoretically be used to represent different languages.

In practice, the ability to communicate across languages only works for the closely related varieties of Chinese , as differences in syntax reduce the crosslinguistic portability of a given logographic system. Japanese uses Chinese logograms extensively in its writing systems, with most of the symbols carrying the same or similar meanings. However, the grammatical differences between Japanese and Chinese are significant enough that a long Chinese text is not readily understandable to a Japanese reader without any knowledge of basic Chinese grammar , though short and concise phrases such as those on signs and newspaper headlines are much easier to comprehend.

While most languages do not use wholly logographic writing systems, many languages use some logograms. A good example of modern western logograms are the Hindu-Arabic numerals: Logograms are sometimes called ideograms , a word that refers to symbols which graphically represent abstract ideas, but linguists avoid this use, as Chinese characters are often semantic — phonetic compounds, symbols which include an element that represents the meaning and a phonetic complement element that represents the pronunciation.

Some nonlinguists distinguish between lexigraphy and ideography, where symbols in lexigraphies represent words and symbols in ideographies represent words or morphemes. The most important and, to a degree, the only surviving modern logographic writing system is the Chinese one, whose characters have been used with varying degrees of modification in varieties of Chinese , Japanese , Korean , Vietnamese , and other east Asian languages.

Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and the Mayan writing system are also systems with certain logographic features, although they have marked phonetic features as well and are no longer in current use. Vietnamese speakers switched to the Latin alphabet in the 20th century and the use of Chinese characters in Korean is increasingly rare.

The Japanese writing system includes several distinct forms of writing including logography. Another type of writing system with systematic syllabic linear symbols, the abugidas , is discussed below as well. As logographic writing systems use a single symbol for an entire word, a syllabary is a set of written symbols that represent or approximate syllables , which make up words.

A symbol in a syllabary typically represents a consonant sound followed by a vowel sound, or just a vowel alone. In a "true syllabary", there is no systematic graphic similarity between phonetically related characters though some do have graphic similarity for the vowels. More recent creations such as the Cree syllabary embody a system of varying signs, which can best be seen when arranging the syllabogram set in an onset — coda or onset— rime table.

Syllabaries are best suited to languages with relatively simple syllable structure, such as Japanese. The English language , on the other hand, allows complex syllable structures, with a relatively large inventory of vowels and complex consonant clusters , making it cumbersome to write English words with a syllabary. To write English using a syllabary, every possible syllable in English would have to have a separate symbol, and whereas the number of possible syllables in Japanese is around , in English there are approximately 15, to 16, However, syllabaries with much larger inventories do exist.

The Yi script , for example, contains different symbols or 1,, if symbols with a particular tone diacritic are counted as separate syllables, as in Unicode.

The Chinese script , when used to write Middle Chinese and the modern varieties of Chinese , also represents syllables, and includes separate glyphs for nearly all of the many thousands of syllables in Middle Chinese ; however, because it primarily represents morphemes and includes different characters to represent homophonous morphemes with different meanings, it is normally considered a logographic script rather than a syllabary. Several languages of the Ancient Near East used forms of cuneiform , which is a syllabary with some non-syllabic elements.

An alphabet is a small set of letters basic written symbols , each of which roughly represents or represented historically a phoneme of a spoken language. The word alphabet is derived from alpha and beta , the first two symbols of the Greek alphabet.

The first type of alphabet that was developed was the abjad. An abjad is an alphabetic writing system where there is one symbol per consonant. Abjads differ from other alphabets in that they have characters only for consonantal sounds. Vowels are not usually marked in abjads. All known abjads except maybe Tifinagh belong to the Semitic family of scripts, and derive from the original Northern Linear Abjad.

The reason for this is that Semitic languages and the related Berber languages have a morphemic structure which makes the denotation of vowels redundant in most cases. Some abjads, like Arabic and Hebrew, have markings for vowels as well. However, they use them only in special contexts, such as for teaching. Many scripts derived from abjads have been extended with vowel symbols to become full alphabets. Of these, the most famous example is the derivation of the Greek alphabet from the Phoenician abjad.

This has mostly happened when the script was adapted to a non-Semitic language. An abugida is an alphabetic writing system whose basic signs denote consonants with an inherent vowel and where consistent modifications of the basic sign indicate other following vowels than the inherent one.

Thus, in an abugida there may or may not be a sign for "k" with no vowel, but also one for "ka" if "a" is the inherent vowel , and "ke" is written by modifying the "ka" sign in a way that is consistent with how one would modify "la" to get "le". In many abugidas the modification is the addition of a vowel sign, but other possibilities are imaginable and used , such as rotation of the basic sign, addition of diacritical marks and so on. The contrast with "true syllabaries " is that the latter have one distinct symbol per possible syllable, and the signs for each syllable have no systematic graphic similarity.

The graphic similarity of most abugidas comes from the fact that they are derived from abjads, and the consonants make up the symbols with the inherent vowel and the new vowel symbols are markings added on to the base symbol.

In the Ge'ez script , for which the linguistic term abugida was named, the vowel modifications do not always appear systematic, although they originally were more so.

Canadian Aboriginal syllabics can be considered abugidas, although they are rarely thought of in those terms. The largest single group of abugidas is the Brahmic family of scripts, however, which includes nearly all the scripts used in India and Southeast Asia. The name abugida is derived from the first four characters of an order of the Ge'ez script used in some contexts. It was borrowed from Ethiopian languages as a linguistic term by Peter T.

A featural script represents finer detail than an alphabet. Here symbols do not represent whole phonemes, but rather the elements features that make up the phonemes, such as voicing or its place of articulation. Theoretically, each feature could be written with a separate letter; and abjads or abugidas, or indeed syllabaries, could be featural, but the only prominent system of this sort is Korean hangul. In hangul, the featural symbols are combined into alphabetic letters, and these letters are in turn joined into syllabic blocks, so that the system combines three levels of phonological representation.

John DeFrancis , reject this class or at least labeling hangul as such. The basic unit of writing in these systems can map to anything from phonemes to words. It has been shown that even the Latin script has sub-character "features". Most writing systems are not purely one type. As mentioned above, all logographic systems have phonetic components as well, whether along the lines of a syllabary, such as Chinese "logo-syllabic" , or an abjad, as in Egyptian "logo-consonantal". Some scripts, however, are truly ambiguous.

The semi-syllabaries of ancient Spain were syllabic for plosives such as p , t , k , but alphabetic for other consonants. In some versions, vowels were written redundantly after syllabic letters, conforming to an alphabetic orthography. Old Persian cuneiform was similar.

The zhuyin phonetic glossing script for Chinese divides syllables in two or three, but into onset , medial , and rime rather than consonant and vowel. Pahawh Hmong is similar, but can be considered to divide syllables into either onset-rime or consonant-vowel all consonant clusters and diphthongs are written with single letters ; as the latter, it is equivalent to an abugida but with the roles of consonant and vowel reversed.

Other scripts are intermediate between the categories of alphabet, abjad and abugida, so there may be disagreement on how they should be classified. Perhaps the primary graphic distinction made in classifications is that of linearity.

Linear writing systems are those in which the characters are composed of lines, such as the Latin alphabet and Chinese characters. Chinese characters are considered linear whether they are written with a ball-point pen or a calligraphic brush, or cast in bronze. Similarly, Egyptian hieroglyphs and Maya glyphs were often painted in linear outline form, but in formal contexts they were carved in bas-relief. The earliest examples of writing are linear: Non-linear systems, on the other hand, such as braille , are not composed of lines, no matter what instrument is used to write them.

Cuneiform was probably the earliest non-linear writing. Its glyphs were formed by pressing the end of a reed stylus into moist clay, not by tracing lines in the clay with the stylus as had been done previously. Braille is a non-linear adaptation of the Latin alphabet that completely abandoned the Latin forms.

The letters are composed of raised bumps on the writing substrate , which can be leather Louis Braille 's original material , stiff paper, plastic or metal. There are also transient non-linear adaptations of the Latin alphabet, including Morse code , the manual alphabets of various sign languages , and semaphore, in which flags or bars are positioned at prescribed angles.

However, if "writing" is defined as a potentially permanent means of recording information, then these systems do not qualify as writing at all, since the symbols disappear as soon as they are used. Instead, these transient systems serve as signals. Scripts are also graphically characterized by the direction in which they are written. Egyptian hieroglyphs were written either left to right or right to left, with the animal and human glyphs turned to face the beginning of the line.

The early alphabet could be written in multiple directions: Prior to standardization, alphabetical writing was done both left-to-right LTR or sinistrodextrally and right-to-left RTL or dextrosinistrally. It was most commonly written boustrophedonically: The Greek alphabet and its successors settled on a left-to-right pattern, from the top to the bottom of the page.

Other scripts, such as Arabic and Hebrew , came to be written right-to-left. Scripts that incorporate Chinese characters have traditionally been written vertically top-to-bottom , from the right to the left of the page, but nowadays are frequently written left-to-right, top-to-bottom, due to Western influence, a growing need to accommodate terms in the Latin script , and technical limitations in popular electronic document formats. Chinese characters sometimes, as in signage, especially when signifying something old or traditional, may also be written from right to left.

While Ogham is written bottom to top and read vertically, commonly on the corner of a stone. The direction of writing in the Semitic languages evolved throughout the years.

Different findings show that in some past periods the Hebrew language was written from time to time from left to right and sometimes also boustrophedonically. This decision of writing from right to left is related in the physical way of writing the letters: That's the reason why most of the later script systems Greek and its derivatives- Cyrillic and Latin were written from left to right, while the Semitic scripts just preserved the writing from right to left.

In computers and telecommunication systems, writing systems are generally not codified as such, [ clarification needed ] but graphemes and other grapheme-like units that are required for text processing are represented by " characters " that typically manifest in encoded form. Both are generally encompassed by the term Unicode. In Unicode, each character, in every language's writing system, is simplifying slightly given a unique identification number, known as its code point.

Computer operating systems use code points to look up characters in the font file, so the characters can be displayed on the page or screen. A keyboard is the device most commonly used for writing via computer. Each key is associated with a standard code which the keyboard sends to the computer when it is pressed. By using a combination of alphabetic keys with modifier keys such as Ctrl , Alt , Shift and AltGr , various character codes are generated and sent to the CPU.

The operating system intercepts and converts those signals to the appropriate characters based on the keyboard layout and input method , and then delivers those converted codes and characters to the running application software , which in turn looks up the appropriate glyph in the currently used font file, and requests the operating system to draw these on the screen.

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Ojibwe is an indigenous language of North America from the Algonquian language family. Ojibwe is one of the largest Native American languages north of Mexico in terms of number of speakers and is characterized by a series .

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Nov 26,  · Communication by writing among the Native Americans in the aboriginal period was limited to the Maya and the Aztecs. Both cultures used a form of picture writing to represent their ideas. Both cultures used a form of .

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Unlike maya writing and other Mesoamerican scripts, none of the indigenous systems of North America pre-dates European contact. After European colonization had begun, various systems were devised for native American languages by indigenous inventors who had been exposed to European literacy, and by missionaries. Jul 26,  · English is an alphabetic writing system based upon phonetic signs. Many writing systems are combinations of different writing systems. Ancient Sumerian, for example, is a logosyllabic system (Id.).

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Setting the Record Straight About Native Languages: Writing Systems Q: Were Micmac, Cree, or other Amerindian writing systems invented by European missionaries? A: . There are many different Native American tribes with their own languages. Sequoia devised a system for writing the Cherokee language; but Navaho, Comanche, and other tribal languages would have.